There’s nothing more annoying than taking a leisurely walk in the woods then coming in contact with poison ivy. Many of us don’t even know what this plant looks like until it’s too late. A mere brush can result in painful rashes and itching sensations. After such experience, a walk in the woods can discourage even the most ardent nature lovers.
Poison ivy plants contain a toxin called urushiol which is the cause of all the discomfort. In fact, this substance is considered one of the most fatal natural poisons in the whole world. When the skin comes in contact with the plant, it’s most likely to cause swelling, pain, an incredible amount of itchiness, and pain. In many cases, contact can also result in red bumps, severe burning, irritating sensations, and fever. After contact, these symptoms can start manifesting themselves anywhere from after a couple of hours to several days or a couple of weeks.
It could be worse for tor those who aren’t aware they have had a brush with the ivy. Their uncontrollable scratching can make the condition worse as this action will allow the effects to spread more rapidly. Usually, poison ivy is a minor condition but if left untreated, can cause a lot of pain and suffering.
Fortunately, there are now remedies to alleviate us from the effects of poison ivy. Although nature cursed us with this impish weed, nature also provided us with natural remedies to counter it. We will discuss some of the more popular natural remedies for poison ivy later on.
How to Recognize Poison Ivy
Common sense should remind us that the best way to avoid the pain caused by poison ivy is by recognizing the plant and, of course, avoiding it. If you are from the Northern and Western USA or Canada, the plant is a shrub. In the other parts of the USA, it’s a vine. The plant’s features include leaves with three leaflets each that are smooth and notched. The leaf color changes with each season. Green in summer and orange, red, and yellow in the fall with off-white berries. On the other hand, the leaves fall off in wintertime and the vine will appear hairy.
What Causes a Poison Ivy Rash?
Perhaps this is the most popular poisonous plant that can cause harmful reactions to humans. It grows all across the USA and Canada, particularly in the eastern parts. Some are also found in Asia but not as prevalent.
Urushiol is the toxin produced by these plants that can cause the reactions. This volatile oil is present in all the plant’s parts. The oil isn’t visible to the human eye because it’s a clear and sticky compound that is in the plant’s sap. Being odorless and colorless makes it difficult to spot and avoid it. When a person comes in contact with urushiol oil, it’s quickly absorbed by the skin and can remain there for an indefinite period of time. The oil can also adhere to clothing and other materials. Some studies have shown that urushiol can stay on some fabrics for up to five years!
How Long Does the Rash Last?
On the average, the rashes caused by poison ivy can last for about two to three weeks. All of us can react differently to the effects of poison ivy. We can consider the reaction as an allergy and how long this will last will depend upon the individual’s tolerance to the oils and the strength of the immune system.
Another factor which can have an influence on the rash’s duration is the area of the skin where contact was made. Some of our skin areas are more sensitive than others. Logically, it will take more time for blisters to heal in sensitive areas. There is some good news in all this. The rash itself, including any fluids that may come out of it, even if it gets very inflamed, will not cause the rash to spread. Spreading here means that symptoms are still manifesting themselves slowly or when a person is exposed to the urushiol toxin through contaminated materials or tools over and over again. Treating poison ivy can be very frustrating because of its unpredictability. As mentioned earlier, the symptoms can be felt a few hours or several weeks later after exposure.
Try These Remedies:
After Getting Exposed to the Poison Ivy, Wash Your Hands
One should really have some basic knowledge about poison ivy, how to prevent or apply some sort of treatment in case of contact. When exposed, immediately wash your body or hands with water and a strong soap. This should be done as soon as possible. It will reduce the risk of having a reaction. If you allow the poison ivy oils to remain on the skin, there will be a greater possibility that rashes and some other symptoms will develop. Wash the contaminated parts thoroughly and don’t use washcloths to dry your skin as the poison can find its way into the fabric and stay there.
There’s no specific time on how long it takes before the poison starts its damage and this is precisely the reason why you will need to wash your hands and other skin areas including the fingernails, immediately. The sooner the better. There are commercial washes that are available on the market which are stronger than common soap and are made for such a purpose. These products may contain ingredients like acetone, alcohol, and other kinds of chemicals. However, many contend that such washes are no more effective in preventing rashes. To many, hand soaps, body washes, and even laundry detergents will be good enough.
Take a Shower or a Bath
You can either wash away the toxins of poison ivy using alcohol, water or both. Alcohol is best but may be more expensive. You can use rubbing alcohol first. Then shower or bathe with lukewarm soap and water. Don’t forget to include areas under the fingernails as well. Many have advised that taking a shower within a sixty-minute exposure window can help reduce the spread and seriousness of the rash. Wash the affected skin thoroughly including anything that has come in contact with the plant. For safer precautions, wear rubber gloves when doing this.
Studies have shown that oatmeal has antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that can alleviate several inflammatory conditions. This is a natural remedy for ivy poisoning. Add some oatmeal or an oatmeal-based product to a lukewarm bath. Soaking your body for a good half-hour can provide symptom relief.
Follow some steps for a classic remedy for poison ivy treatment. First, grind until powdery a cup of oatmeal in the blender then pour this into a piece of cheesecloth. Knot the cloth then tie it around your bathtub faucet. The bag should be suspended under running water. Then it’s time to fill the tub with water that’s lukewarm. Soak in the bath for about half an hour. This remedy can give you relief but a quicker way to get better results is placing the pouch of oatmeal directly on the rash areas.
Apply Rubbing Alcohol
If you have some rubbing alcohol on hand, rub some directly on the affected areas. This can remove the urushiol oil from the skin thus minimizing the discomfort. But this too should be done immediately, about ten minutes after contact. This makes it advisable for hikers and campers to bring with them some alcohol or alcohol wipes at all times.
There is a memo from the US Food and Drug Administration, which serves as a notice about the dangers of urushiol. This toxin can remain on the surface of many items that come in contact with poison ivy and this can stay on for years unless treated with alcohol or water. Always carry some alcohol with you on outdoor trips. In case of contact, immediately swipe your skin with alcohol or alcohol wipes. This will reduce the discomfort by slowing down or preventing the poison ivy toxin from penetrating the skin fully.
Apply Bentonite Clay or Baking Soda
There are two other substances that can give relief to the effects of poison ivy. First, a paste of water and bentonite clay applied to the affected area can prevent or lessen the allergic reactions brought about by poison ivy or poison oak. Bentonite clay is a natural clay that’s an ingredient to a variety of beauty and personal care products.
Baking soda also known as sodium bicarbonate is a salt that’s commonly used in baking. Surprisingly, this chemical does have several other household uses. You can use it as a cleaning agent, as a teeth whitener, or even as a deodorant. It can also be used to bring relief to poison ivy rashes. This is another home treatment for poison ivy rashes. This is especially effective for rashes that have formed blisters.
Make a paste from 3 teaspoons of baking soda plus one teaspoon water. Apply this on the areas with the rashes. When this dries, it will start to flake off. If you have blisters which are already in an oozing stage, make a mixture containing one liter of water and two teaspoons of baking soda. Saturate in the mixture a couple gauze pads which are sterile. Cover your blisters with these wet gauze pads for about ten minutes, for about four times each day. Word of caution, don’t apply this on or near the eyes. If you want a less messy procedure, soak yourself in a bathtub with a cup of baking soda mixed in.
Aside from all the homemade remedies already taken up, you can also resort to medications for symptom relief. Request your doctor for some prescriptions on steroid drugs like prednisone. This can ease the inflammation and itching. Steroids used for medication can come in a variety of forms. They can either be cream, injections, lotions, tablets or gels. If the rash becomes infected because of constant scratching or picking on the blisters, antibiotics may sometimes be necessary.
Apply a Cold Compress to the Rash
Applying a cold compress on affected areas can help reduce inflammations and itchiness. This is a very simple procedure. Just run a clean washcloth under cold water, wring-off the excess water and put this on the skin for about 15 minutes to half an hour. Repeat this several times each day when needed.
Cold compresses on affected areas can reduce the itchiness. This will, of course, lead to less scratching. More often than not, it’s your sharp nails that might open the blisters and cause an infection. You can also use Witch Hazel extracts to get that rash-reduction effect. Simply soak cotton balls in the extracts and pat this on the rash. For more serious cases, like weepy poison ivy rashes, try using a strongly-brewed tea. Again, simply dip the cotton balls into the brewed tea, pat on affected areas then let air-dry. Keep on repeating the procedure as needed.
Astringent liquids can also be used to alleviate discomfort from poison ivy rashes. Simply soak your compress in astringent liquids to lessen itching and swelling. Examples of this liquids are chilled black tea, aluminum acetate, and the ever-dependable apple cider vinegar.
Use Natural Anti-itch and Antihistamine Solutions
To develop a reaction to poison ivy oils, the skin needs to have a direct contact with the toxin. The itching itself won’t cause the rash to start spreading but it will be likely that there will be an increase in the degree of irritation and itchiness. It’s recommended that the affected area should be left alone. Don’t scratch as this may lead to more serious problems. Instead, apply some natural remedies to help relieve the itchiness and inflammation.
There are some common herbal products and supplements that may help reduce itchiness and rash formation. First of all, there’s jewelweed. This can be purchased in bottles. It contains essential oils that can lower many types of reactions to plant poison. As we’ve mentioned, Witch Hazel extracts can also be as effective in treating such skin reactions and is more available than jewelweed.
You can also use echinacea which is a herb you can take as a tincture or as a supplement to reduce the reactions to histamines. For the latter, just mix one part of echinacea to three parts of water. Apply this to the affected skin numerous times a day using a compress.
Colloidal or regular oatmeal can be used too. Soaking yourself in a bath with the colloidal oatmeal can soothe away blisters caused by poison ivy toxins. The substances in oatmeal, specifically phenols and avenanthramidesa, have anti-inflammatory characteristics that can help in relieving itchiness. If you have troubles finding colloidal oatmeal either in online shops or in the drugstore, you can always substitute this with regular oatmeal. This has the same substances as the colloidal type.
Essential oils can be very beneficial too. The topical application of certain oils can help improve the condition of the rashes by reducing inflammation. These oils like rose, helichrysum, lavender, and geranium have been used in treating allergies. Just add a couple of drops of oil to a compress then apply it to the affected area about three times a day. For those with sensitive skin, just add a teaspoon of coconut oil to the mixture to dilute it further. This will reduce the mixture’s strength. Other supplements have also been used to control poison ivy symptoms by boosting the body’s immune system. Some such supplements include stinging nettle, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and quercetin.
Try to Avoid Scratching the Skin With the Rash
This should be self-explanatory. Avoid scratching the skin when you get exposed to poison ivy toxins because this can cause blisters to burst which in turn can lead to infections. The body has its own defenses. Open blisters should be left alone as the skin that covers wounds will provide protection against the risk of infections. As a reminder, those exposed should make it a point to clean fingernails as they can contain traces of urushiol. This can be transmitted to the skin by simple scratching which will cause more scratching and rashes.
Apply Topical Creams and Lotions
You can find over-the-counter medications that can give relief to poison ivy symptoms. The most popular ones are hydrocortisone creams and calamine lotions. They have been proven in reducing swelling and itching. In cases where there is oozing and weeping of blisters caused by poison ivy, the FDA recommends products that contain zinc carbonate, zinc oxide, and zinc acetate. Users though should read instructions on the labels on how to apply these products. Aloe vera gel is another soothing topical remedy that can provide relief from discomfort caused by poison ivy.
Take Oral Antihistamines
For more convenient relief, oral antihistamines are the best. These medications can lessen the severity of allergies by reducing itchiness and rash formations. Benadryl, also known as diphenhydramine, is the most recognized antihistamine. Taking the drug would help people sleep out their symptoms. Antihistamines also come in cream form but aren’t recommended for use in poison ivy cases as they may aggravate the itching.
Use Organic Remedies
Goldenseal, also known as orangeroot, is a herb with many medicinal properties. It can be effective in treating rashes caused by poison ivy. Just mix a small amount of goldenseal root with a small amount of hot water to form a paste. Apply this by rubbing on the affected areas to reduce the risk of infection. You can also drink goldenseal tea or take a goldenseal supplement for faster relief. This remedy can also be used on poison oak.
Know When to Go to the Doctor
There is always a point when you will need some medical attention if confronted with serious reactions to either poison ivy, poison oak or sumac. If you’re experiencing specific symptoms, see your doctor immediately.
Consult with your doctor if you have a temperature over 100˚C or if there’s pus formation on the rashes. Also, if you notice soft yellow scabs or experience worsening itchiness or itching that keeps you up at night. It’s also important to seek medical help if the rashes start spreading to your eyes, genital, and mouth areas. Or if you have rashes that don’t heal after a few weeks.
Doctors will usually prescribe oral corticosteroids like prednisone. In addition, a steroid cream for your skin may also be prescribed. Antibiotics may be needed in case the rashes become infected.
You Can Also Use These Common Household and Kitchen Items:
You may be surprised that some remedies can already be found in your own home. You may not even be running to the drugstore with these natural poison ivy treatments.
- With cucumber, you can calm those rashes. As a matter of fact, this is one of the simplest ways to treat rashes caused by poison ivy. Cucumber slices can offer soothing relief by merely placing these on the affected areas. Or you can make a cucumber paste by mashing some cucumbers and applying this directly on the rash for the same soothing effect. Of course, you need not go through all these troubles if you were able to identify the poison ivy in the first place.
- Use a banana peel to cool down the itch. This may sound like an old wife’s tale but there is some truth in it. Even the peel of a banana has its own health benefits. For poison ivy rashes, simply rub the inside of a banana peel on the affected areas. The peels have cooling properties that can alleviate the itchiness caused by poison ivy rashes. Watermelon rinds are also said to have the same cooling effects as attested on by many.
- If you want to kill the poison, use apple cider vinegar. This item already has countless health benefits. Regarding the toxins of poison ivy, using ACV can also be an effective treatment. Just soak a clean brown bag in ACV, then place this directly on the rashes to draw out the toxins. This is no myth, it really works.
- Aloe vera is effective in beating burns and poison ivy toxins. Aloe vera is another miracle plant that offers plenty of health benefits. Treating poison ivy rashes is just one of such. The plant’s sap can work very effectively on such rashes by just applying this directly on the affected skin. You can directly use the plant’s leaves or buy aloe gels at the drugstore for faster relief.
- Lemon juice is not just for drinking anymore. Many people swear based on experience that lemon juice works as a treatment for poison ivy. There is definitely truth in this because lemon juice is a natural astringent. Apply directly to the affected areas as soon as possible after exposure and before the toxic urushiol oils can penetrate the skin.
- Plain running water can lessen the sensitivity of affected skin as well. Upon exposure, immediately wash the affected skin in running water. If there is soap available, so much the better. This can help reduce the size and seriousness of any rash that may develop. But you must use cold water because hot water can further irritate the affected skin.
What are Some Precautions When Treating a Poison Ivy Rash?
Don’t wait any longer to call your doctor if you’re experiencing severe symptoms caused by an allergic reaction to poison ivy. Swelling in sensitive areas like the eyes, mouth, genitals or throat, should be cause for alarm. The same if you also experience nausea, fevers, oozing blisters, and having a hard time to fall asleep because of the discomfort. Should the rashes last longer than several weeks then become inflamed or unbearable, it really is time to call your doctor.
Most doctors will prescribe a corticosteroid shot if a patient is severely allergic to poison ivy. Initially, a cream containing hydrocortisone or calamine lotion is applied on the rash. If there are no improvements, then steroid injections, as a last resort, will be administered to lower severe inflammations, control itchiness or swelling. This is because steroids can cause side effects in some people. Steroids aren’t meant to be used each time a patient has a skin reaction unless the condition becomes truly unbearable and even risky. These shots aren’t recommended for use on the face, genitals, on expectant mothers or on young children.
Steroids are used to treat allergies only as a last resort. Should the doctor deem it necessary, keep in mind that steroid tablets are more likely to cause side effects than injection shots, especially when taken continuously for several days? Steroid side effects can include worsened skin reactions at the injection site, joint and muscle swelling or pain, weakness, puffiness, and a thinning or lightening of the skin. After an injection, your skin may become more prone to irritations and sunburn.
Causes and Risk Factors of a Poison Ivy Rash
Basically, a poison ivy rash is no more than a kind of allergic reaction known as contact dermatitis. This can range from mild to severe and it would depend on a person’s tolerance. Most can develop the symptoms of poison ivy 48 hours after exposure to the plant’s urushiol oils. Others won’t manifest all or any of the symptoms for several weeks. The symptoms might manifest themselves in the course of a couple of weeks because of repetitive exposure to urushiol. The person may not even be aware of the poison because it can take time for the immune system to react to the poison.
There are many materials in your home that may harbor urushiol oil and these can include gardening tools, shovels, gloves, cotton clothing, socks, hats, shoes, and more. Inside the home, you can find the toxin on pet fur, doorknobs, furniture, sports equipment, and others.
Even smoke burning of poison ivy can cause allergic reactions when inhaled. Burning will release the urushiol oil in the air but developing a rash from this kind of exposure is very rare. There are more risk factors as well which lead to the development of poison ivy rashes. Family members who have allergies to poison ivy or have had the same allergic reactions in the past are more prone to poison ivy rash. Like many other types of allergies, the condition seems to run in certain families. Also, you’re more susceptible if you have a history of severe allergic reactions or a weak immune system because of medical conditions. When you use a weeder to get rid of weeds can also cause allergies. The tool cuts up the plant then sprays out the parts which can cause the poison ivy toxin to be splattered on the skin and clothes. Those who have sensitive skin, typically the fairer ones who easily get sunburned, are more prone to develop the rashes as well.
Symptoms of a Poison Ivy Rash
Those who have been exposed to poison ivy have had the displeasure of experiencing the symptoms of allergic reactions to the plant’s toxin. One such symptom is severe itching, especially for those with dry or sensitive skin and those with skin conditions like dermatitis and eczema. Another common symptom is to develop red skin rashes that may have yellow patches which are inflamed. Several blisters on the skin raging from very small to big ones are symptoms too. Typically, these blisters form in straight lines or patches, depending on the path where the toxic oil came into contact on the skin. Severe blisters can open as wounds and may start oozing fluids.
The formation of scabs on the rashes is a sign that the rash is starting to heal. Healed skin is characterized by skin discoloration and skin dryness. Because of this, as much as possible, never expose your healing skin to sunburns while skin is recuperating and immediately afterward.
But are we all allergic to poison ivy? The answer is no. There is a lucky group who won’t react when they come in contact with poison ivy. They will not even manifest any symptoms. As for the rest of us, well, we are just not that lucky. But many experts believe that constant contact with poison ivy will make us less likely to develop rashes. This is compared to our exposures to other bacteria and viruses where a robust immune system can develop a tolerance towards poison ivy oils. But there is no guarantee that we are completely safe. This is still a theory in the works. Though some of us can notice lesser reactions to the poison ivy after repeated exposure, most of us are still vulnerable.
Prevention is Better Than Cure!
Dermatitis caused by poison ivy is much easier to put a stop to than treating it. Therefore, it’s most important to recognize and avoid the plant. Let’s go through some helpful tips to avoid getting rashes from poison ivy:
- Wear clothing which will protect your skin. Make it a point to cover yourself up when you plan to go outside or in places where poison ivy is very common. If you do manual work, make sure you wear thick or PVC gardening gloves. Avoid using latex gloves which are thin as these might allow the oil to enter into the skin.
- Also, use barrier substances. There are products available that you can apply on the skin to lessen the potential poison ivy contact symptoms before exposure. But also remember that these substances should also be rinsed off within hours after contact with the plant.
- It’s also important to wash everything that comes in contact with the poison ivy plant. Remember that the toxic oil of poison ivy can linger even for years. Therefore, anything exposed to it must, therefore, be washed thoroughly with water and soap to make sure it doesn’t come in contact with your skin.
- Eliminate any poison ivy from your garden.This could be a little dangerous because all the parts of the poison ivy have urushiol oil in them from the leaves down to the roots. You can hire professionals to remove the plants in your garden to ensure that you won’t get exposed and that all the plants are taken out. To reiterate, don’t burn the poison ivy because the fumes can also cause severe reactions. Even exposure to dead poison ivy plants can still cause dermatitis.
- Ready a kit for poison ivy. When poison ivy is in your vicinity, make sure that you have some treatments for poison ivy on hand including the soap, alcohol, and water. In case contact is made, you’re allowed a quick response for treatment, thus lessening the seriousness of the symptoms.
We have mentioned earlier that the majority of us are sensitive to the toxic oils found in poison ivy. According to studies, about 85% and this must be true because poison ivy rashes are very common. A skin rash which develops after contact with the plant is the most evident symptom. This is also true with poison oak and poison sumac. Upon contact, the urushiol oils penetrate the skin and enter the immune system. This will cause a histamine response where a form of dermatitis develops on the skin. And some of these cases may lead to very severe reactions.
People around you need not worry about the transfer because poison ivy rashes aren’t contagious. It cannot spread from body part to body part or from one person to another. Getting rashes from exposure is no guarantee that you will not get it again in the future. That is the reason why tools and clothing that have been exposed to poison ivy should be thoroughly cleaned because the poison can linger for years. In case you come in contact with the plant and start to show symptoms, there are many natural remedies you can use to help reduce itchiness and redness.
What do you think?